To be on ‘Top Chef’ you’ll need more than a saucepan and knife

A few colorful characters from Top Chef over the years.
Illustration: Wes Gatbonton

Here’s a question you don’t find on every job application:

“Who is your least favorite chef and why?” But there it was on the no-less-than 25-page questionnaire Top Chef hopefuls received at STK during a local casting call March 10. Apparently, if you want to cook for Tom Colicchio and create dishes in 15 minutes using only ingredients that start with the letter “P,” you’d better be ready to talk a little trash first.

The Vegas stop was part of an “epic road trip” for production company Magical Elves and its fantastically named casting producer Hunter Braun, along with casting associate Lauren Schlossman. While the actual cooking comes later in the casting process, local chefs answered typical job interview fare (best and worst traits) and more tailored queries (“Create a culinary interpretation of the lyric ‘Five gold rings’ from the song ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’”) and sat down with Braun and Schlossman to talk about the most important ingredient in Bravo’s hit culinary competition: the food.

“We look for the way they describe a dish,” explained Schlossman. “If they have passion in their voice, you can tell.”

Passion is, essentially, what they’re looking for. Along with personality, “culinary credibility” (in other words, a decent resume) and serious skills. “What’s really cool about this show is there isn’t a specific formula,” Braun said. Though it can sometimes seem like every season has its molecular mastermind, home cookin’ sweetheart and pretentious jerk, he insisted they don’t cast according to some TV-perfect rubric. “Every season there are always some people who are no-brainers,” Braun added, “but there are people we love fighting for, too.”

Perhaps one of those people will be a Vegas chef, like Sage’s Richard Camarota, Yellowtail’s Michael Chen and Jacquelynne Stine from Everything Under the Sun catering, all of whom interviewed with Braun, Schlossman and STK executive chef and Top Chef: D.C. competitor Stephen Hopcraft last week.

“Business is slow right now,” Stine said matter-of-factly, explaining her reasons for trying out. Then she paused, and seemed to rethink her answer. “I want to be a movie star. You kidding me? Just give me a chance. All I want is five minutes.”

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